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Seven ways to avoid falling victim to fraud

July 13, 2015 by Guest contributor

Seven ways to avoid falling victim to fraud{{}}Fraudsters often target small firms, sensing the opportunity to net a bigger haul from a business than they could extract from a person. Company fraud has cost UK SMEs nearly £8bn and 286,000 small businesses have been affected. Yet, the type of fraud to which small businesses are falling victim – card, cheque and identity fraud – is common. So, how you could avoid becoming the next victim of fraud?

1 Don't accept cheque overpayment

Cheques are not as widely used as they once were. But customers may use a cheque to 'overpay' you for goods or services and then expect payment for the difference. Do this and you're giving out money that isn't owed and there's a risk the cheque will bounce.

2 Be mindful of credit fraud

A business customer may ask for credit, although they are bankrupt and are trading illegally. This customer can set up again with the same directors as a 'phoenix company' that is not liable for the loss of their previous business – meaning you won't be repaid for the credit you gave.

3 Know who you are in business with

A company's circumstances can change and a once reliable customer or supplier, who paid or delivered on time, may run into financial difficulties. Monitor your customers' and suppliers' credit performance, so their financial issues don't become your problem.

4 Don't take on new customers and suppliers without running a status check

Is the business real? Confirm the address and building from which the business is trading; call the phone number that is registered to the company, and even ask for a reference from another company to ensure the business exists and pays its bills.

5 Treat businesses alike – home and away

When trading internationally, use the same checks as you would for UK customers. Set up access to an international credit report, learn about a company's credit history and set appropriate payment terms and credit limits.

6 Use credit checking as standard

By credit checking a business you know whether it's at risk of going bankrupt, so you don't lose out doing work that will never get paid for or on goods or services that will never be delivered to you.

7 Know all about you

Use a tool that gives you real-time alerts as to when your credit file is searched or when there is a significant change to your credit report. Changes could be a sign of attempted fraud, so an early-warning system is crucial because it allows you to rectify matters.

Copyright © 2015 Ade Potts, managing director of Experian's SME Business. Follow Experian @ExperianSME_UK.

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How to build a dashboard to drive your business forward

July 06, 2015 by Guest contributor

Dashboard{{}}When you are running a business, most of the time you are focused on three things: getting more customers; increasing sales; and earning more profit. So when, for example, sales are not really happening, I find at The London Coaching Group that most business owners start "reacting" and implementing activity to get more customers. "Let's run an email campaign", or maybe "Let's do some SEO" or "Let's get on the phone and call some customers."

A lot of random approaches start creeping in to their marketing activity – and it starts to get messy. What needs to be understood here is that these three things are important, but at the time of setting goals – when you are clarifying and planning the destination for your business.

From a day-to-day and marketing point of view, however, these are not what you should be focusing on. The really important considerations are the items that lead to these outcomes. "Of course" most people say, but I assure you, most businesses do not focus on the right variables on a weekly basis.

The main thing you need to get into the habit of is measuring and managing the Five Levers that lead to these outcomes:

  • Number of enquiries
  • Conversion rate
  • Number of transactions
  • Average sale value
  • Margin.

You can download a one-page PDF of these Five Levers of growth here, with an explanation of each one. You should print this out and stick it up on your wall to constantly remind you of where your focus should be.

But the real key to managing these figures is to ensure you have a weekly business dashboard where you are gathering and monitoring these important stats. There are two main reasons that I believe almost every business owner should have a weekly business dashboard:

  1. It allows you to have a weekly overview of the measurements that matter in your business, and lets you catch any problems before they become catastrophic.
  2. If and when you get a business coach, business mentor or investors to take a look at your business, having this habit in place will ensure they can get a quick and meaningful look at the business's performance. This will allow them to help you identify what is and is not working, where you should be focused, and the areas where you can improve in order to get better and faster results.

If you do not have a weekly business dashboard, then the truth is that you are not staying on top of what is happening in your business. This may be ok, because your business is operating fine right now, but as soon as something is not operating properly, instead of catching it at the start, it could become a major problem before you even know it is happening.

Here are a few of the must-have elements on your weekly business dashboard:

  • Revenue
  • Gross margin percentage or "ratio" (gross profit divided by net sales)
  • Orders taken
  • Average value sale (revenue divided by orders)
  • Leads generated
  • Cash in bank
  • Debtor amount (the amount of money owed to you)
  • Creditor amount (the amount of money that you owe)

You will notice that this list does not include things such as conversion rates, which lend a deeper, richer analysis. That is because the weekly dashboard is not intended for that, you should be using those in your monthly dashboard. On a weekly basis, you want to review these eight pieces to get a quick overview of what is happening, and ensure you are on track.

Ideally, you should be measuring these against targets, which you should determine at the beginning of the year, or the quarter, as a part of your strategic planning. Creating a weekly dashboard is one of the first exercises I do with new business coaching clients. Not once have I had a business come back to me and tell me that keeping that dashboard maintained was a waste of time.

On the contrary, I have had multiple clients that have come back to me years later to let me know that they still use their weekly dashboard, as it really is the perfect way to keep on top of their business.

With the coming of age of a few businesses dashboard specialist companies, which allow data in businesses to be measured and reported event on a real-time basis, there is really no excuse today to not have a dashboard in your business.

Copyright © 2015 Shweta Jhajharia, principal coach and founder at The London Coaching Group. Follow her on Twitter.

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Location, Location, Location – it’s not all about London!

June 29, 2015 by Guest contributor

Location, Location, Location – it’s not all about London! {{}}When it comes to establishing your start-up, choosing the right location is one of the hardest decisions you’ll have to make. Many enthusiastic business owners feel drawn to London because that’s where all the action is, right? Wrong. Well not all of it anyway! There are many fantastic locations around the country that could be just the place to get your start-up off the ground – here’s why…

Local talent is better

Believe it or not, not all of the nation’s talent has flocked to London. Among other things, the UK is home to many fantastic universities based all around the country, which means that there are hundreds of graduates looking for their first job outside of the capital. Speaking from experience, I’ve had no trouble finding extremely talented employees outside of London for my Midlands-based business.

It’s more cost effective

We’ve all heard horror stories about the ever-rising (and quite frankly ridiculous) cost of rent in London. By moving to one of the UK’s other major cities, such as Birmingham, Manchester or Leeds, not only is rent more affordable, but you’ll also save on rising London transport costs. This means that there’ll be extra funds available that can be put straight back into the business – winner!

More central location for clients

Although it might seem like it at times, the world and his dog aren’t all based in London. Because my company, sales-i, is based in the Midlands, we can easily visit existing or prospect customers whether they are north, south, east or west. We can get to every corner of the country with little hassle. By choosing to establish your start-up in a more central location with great transport links, you’ll have much more convenient access to your clients and prospects, wherever they are.

The cloud means you can work anytime, anywhere

Developments in cloud technology mean you don’t even need to have a physical office. My business partner, Kevin, runs our US office from Chicago and the rest of my team is in Solihull, but because our business is cloud-based, it doesn’t matter where we are, we can easily collaborate on projects and communicate effectively. So forget London, with the right technology you can work from anywhere.

Now I’m not saying that London’s not a great place to be. It is and there’s plenty of investment going into the capital’s tech scene, but that doesn’t mean that’s where you need to be. Think outside the box. Make use of the highly skilled individuals on your doorstep, invest in your business with the money you are saving on rent, visit customers and prospects more regularly, and watch your business flourish.

Copyright © 2015 Paul Black, CEO of sales intelligence software supplier sales-i.

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Four ways to make your small business look bigger

June 25, 2015 by Guest contributor

Four ways to make your small business look bigger{{}}Whether you currently run your business from your home or even your local coffee shop, all businesses must start somewhere. Giving the impression that your business is larger than it actually is could help you reach more customers and compete with the big players in your market. These four tips could help you to do just that...

1 Get online

Some 90% of the UK's population are active online, yet, surprisingly, 45% of SMEs in the UK still do not have a website. When a potential customer hears about your business the first thing they will do is search online, so it is important to have an online presence. Having a website will give your business the opportunity to reach more people and can include features such as giving visitors the option to sign up to your newsletter. When designing your website think about where you want your business to be in the future and not where it is at the moment. Just because you are a small business doesn't mean your website can't make a big impression.

2 Be smartphone savvy

With Google's mobile-friendly update having just rolled out it has never been more crucial to have a mobile-optimised website. Some 80% of internet users own a smartphone, but almost half of SMEs have a website that is not optimised for smartphones. Websites optimised for smartphones are designed to fit all screen sizes from iPhones to Androids. When designing your website, be aware that smartphone websites are generally much simpler than regular websites, so simplify and then simplify again.

3 Use a Skype number

Small-business owners often find that they are on the go a lot, whether it is meeting a client or travelling to a training course. You may think that it makes sense to use your mobile number as your main point of contact, however, using a landline number instead gives the impression that you are based in an office and thus own a larger company. An easy way to get around this problem is to have a Skype number. For a small fee you can have a country and area code of your choice and you can answer all calls via your smartphone, tablet or laptop.

4 Be more social

Social media provides brands with a free outlet to communicate and engage with potential customers. All big brands are expected to be active on the main social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook. Depending on your industry, you may want to make other social channels a priority. For example, if you work in photography, visual platforms such as Instagram and Pinterest could be the most beneficial. Aim to post several times a day and make your business an interesting one to follow by asking questions, providing tips and interacting with your followers.

Copyright © 2015 SJD Accountancy

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How to fund your business growth ambitions

June 17, 2015 by Guest contributor

How to fund your business growth ambitions{{}}Whether you become a sole trader (ie are self-employed) or set up a partnership or limited company, starting your own business is relatively simple, quick and inexpensive, which partly explains why so many people continue to do it. Last year, a record-breaking 581,173 new businesses were registered at Companies House. Per capita, more new businesses are started in the UK than in the USA.

However, the survival rate for new businesses remains low. About half of all new UK businesses fail within three years and 90% are gone within 10 years. And only 4% of start-ups achieve a million-pound turnover after three years. For those who survive the three-year test, achieving significant growth remains a huge challenge, with many small firms staying more or less a similar size.

Why do small firms fail to grow?

Some small businesses are restricted by business models that can't be scaled, while others are run by people who simply don't have the know-how, experience, drive, vision or leadership skills to grow a business. Some businesses fail to attract the right people or find the right strategic partners to enable growth.

For most businesses, organic growth by reinvesting profits will only take you so far, usually at a much slower pace. Without doubt another reason why some small businesses fail to grow is lack of funding.

If you really want to take your business to new heights, external investment or funding can unlock the door. I co-founded ezbob in 2012 and since then funding from institutional investors and the UK government-supported Angel CoFund has enabled us to grow our business so that, alongside our sister company, Everline, we've now provided more than 6,000 business loans and lent more than £60m to fellow UK small businesses.

Business growth funding options

Business angel or private equity investment might not be available or preferable (not everyone wants to concede ownership or control in exchange for investment). Grants from public sector organisations exist, but they're few and far between.

You might think you could turn to your bank for a loan to help fund your growth ambitions, but there are no guarantees your application will be approved. That's partly why 'alternative sources' (ie not from banks) now supply 25% of lending to UK SMEs, according to an report in February, which also said that many smaller businesses are discouraged from applying for bank loans as a result of previous rejections or the cost implications.

The most suitable business growth funding option for you will be determined by how much money you need, when you need it, your turnover, whether you're prepared to put up any assets as security or concede any ownership or control. These are all key considerations.

Trying to grow a business inevitably involves some risk and it takes time and a lot of hard work, but the results can make it worthwhile. Above all, you need to ensure you get the funding you need to match your circumstances and ambition.

Copyright © 2015 Tomer Guriel, co-founder and CEO of ezbob. Follow ezbob on Twitter.

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